Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice

start date
1 October 2019
end date
30 September 2024

Global progress on gender equality is under threat. We are living in an age where major political and social shifts are resulting in new forces that are visibly pushing back to reverse the many gains made for women’s rights and to shrink civic space.

This patriarchal backlash is escalating globally. It aims to ‘other’, demonise and disempower those who seek to advance gender justice, and to re-valorise patriarchal traditional gender roles and stereotypes, founded on male supremacy and the subordination of women. It deploys a polarising politics of mobilising populist narratives which comingle misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia – and with scant regard for evidence or ‘truth’. It is also co-opting existing policy processes for gender in development, undoing and reversing much progress made in the past.

This timely five-year programme of work will create much-needed new knowledge of these complex phenomena, and identify opportunities for women’s rights organisations and other gender justice defenders to counter backlash and address the erosion of gender objectives within development. The programme is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

We will carry out engaged research, generate new thinking, and build capacity across networks and strategic partnerships with women’s and other human rights organisations, activists, academics, and policymakers, regionally and globally.

Focused on our central objective ‘to enhance the understanding, capacities, and opportunities needed for women’s rights organisations and other gender justice defenders to counter backlash and address the erosion of gender objectives within development’, we will deliver two key sets of results:

  • Increased access to and use of gender equality research focused on backlash
  • Enhanced methods and capacity development for gender equality efforts.

The project will co-create and communicate evidence and methods on backlash, the erosion of gender policies and new opportunities for feminist action. We will also – by enhancing capacities – indirectly contribute to other strategic gender equality objectives under Global Goals 5 (gender equality) and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Learning and action on ‘voice’, ‘patriarchy’ and ‘policy’

The challenges of backlash, the erosion of gender policies and finding new opportunities for feminist impact will be addressed through three intertwining strands of work: ‘Voice’, ‘Patriarchy’ and ‘Policy and Practice’.

Each will engage research partners and activists, feminist networks, social movements, and policymakers in East Africa, South Asia, Brazil, and the Middle East. We will collaborate with actors in research, capacity building; convening debates, and communicating knowledge and strategies for reclaiming gender justice nationally and internationally. We work collectively to enable adaptive planning, conceptual development, and analysis for influence at all levels.

Find out more on the Countering Backlash programme website


Image of Amy Cowlard
Amy Cowlard

Senior Project Support Officer

Image of Chloe Skinner
Chloe Skinner

Post-doctoral researcher

Image of Jerker Edström
Jerker Edström

Research Fellow

Katy Miller

Project Accountant

Image of Louise Oakley
Louise Oakley

Project Manager

Image of Rosemary McGee
Rosemary McGee

Research Fellow

Image of Sohela Nazneen
Sohela Nazneen

Research Fellow

Image of Tessa Lewin
Tessa Lewin

Research Fellow

Recent work

Past Event

Watch: Global perspectives on countering backlash against women in politics

The participation of women in politics at all levels, is crucial for building democratic and inclusive societies in countries of all income levels, faiths and cultures. However, the progress made so far is increasingly being pushed back against, including via off and online abuse and exacerbated...

18 March 2021


Overcoming the gender gap in Covid experience

International Women’s Day on 8 March brings a welcome focus on women’s rights and equality at a time when the highly gendered impacts of Covid-19 have the potential to threaten decades of slow progress. Globally, women are experiencing the unequal impacts of the pandemic...

5 March 2021


Covid-19 and new struggles over gender and social justice

Backlash against gender and social justice was well underway prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, as Naomi Klein has demonstrated, such crises provide fertile ground for the ‘exceptional politics’ required to dust off and push through illiberal ideas, allowing particular...

3 June 2020